A War on the Poor Erupted in 2013

From workers’ wages to voting rights to birth control, this was an extraordinary year for attacks on the poor.

A soup kitchen run by the Food Bank for New York City, Dec. 11, 2013
A soup kitchen run by the Food Bank for New York City, Dec. 11, 2013 John Moore/Getty Images

America has always been a tough country if you’re starting from zero. Sure, we praise and salute rags-to-riches stories because they make us feel better about the gross inequities in our society, but the reality is much bleaker. Systemic poverty is real. One job loss or serious health scare can take you from being solidly middle class to couch-surfing destitute.

Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can move into your mother’s basement, if your mother didn’t lose her basement and the house it was attached to during the housing crisis of 2008.

You’d think that the myriad of job and financial crises would have forced our government—namely our Congress—to band together to get America “back to work” or whatever slogan they’re using these days, but you’d be wrong. In fact, you could argue the opposite happened. The new poor are just as despised as the old poor. It doesn’t matter how you got to the bottom. Only that you are there and ought to stay there because … you’re not good enough? Americans think job loss is a communicable disease? Because the United States’ form of capitalism can’t survive without an underclass? (Adjusts tin-foil hat.)

I don’t know. But I did learn in 2013 that if you’re broke, it’s your fault. And if it’s not your fault … it’s still your fault. And that for many politicians, you must be eradicated. And not in a “find you a job and lift you out of poverty” way. More like a “marginalize you and make it harder for you to vote” way.

Here are the ways 2013 decided broke people were the real enemy:

You Didn’t Need That Unemployment, Did You?

While there’s a lot of talk about how the federal unemployment-benefits extension expires this weekend, no more unemployment checks are already the reality for people living in North Carolina where they cut jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. It doesn’t matter that a recent White House report stated that “jobless benefits buoy the economy, while keeping 2.5 million workers out of poverty each year.” For many politicians, budget cuts start with people struggling the most.

You Didn’t Need to Eat, Did You?

When it came time to decide which programs should get cut and which should stay, it was a “no-brainer.” If it helps poor people, it should be cut. Why? Because nearly starving to death in the wealthiest country in the world is a great motivator to get non-existent work. Forty-seven million Americans were affected by the cut to the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, or SNAP, in 2013 after Congress could not agree on what should stay or go in the Farm Bill.